The GOP’s Establishment-Insurgent Wars

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Karl at Patterico’s Pontifications disputes my explanations for why nobody significantly to the right of the GOP establishment has managed to win a presidential nomination since 1984:

Ponnuru’s argument discounts not only the value of prior experience running for president, but also the roles resume and regionalism play alongside ideology in selecting a GOP nominee.  Reviewing the GOP candidates for the nomination in 1988, 1996, 2000, and 2008, it is difficult to find a non-nominee who was substantially to the right of the eventual nominee with experience running a national campaign or an equal to better resume.

To recap, I suggested that establishment-oriented candidates always move enough to the right to placate as many conservatives as they need and that anti-establishment conservatives always split their vote. It is certainly true that factors other than those two help explain who won each nomination contest. For one thing, I didn’t even try to explain why one establishment candidate beat another, and part of the role resume and region play is in determining the outcome of that intra-establishment contest.

But Karl is right to suggest that resumes have tended to help the establishment candidates over the conservative anti-establishment candidates in past races. That doesn’t strike me as a coincidence. I’d be inclined to add Karl’s point as a third reason establishment candidates tend to win. Sitting vice presidents, former Senate majority leaders, sons of former presidents, and longtime senators who did well in prior nomination contests are all pretty likely to have strong pro-party establishment inclinations. And the party’s big donors, government officials, and operatives are all–almost by definition–more likely to value long and strong resumes than anti-establishment conservatives are.

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